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Monday, May 31, 2021

On Richard Lionheart’s Crusade

After mentioning that Richard Lionheart’s life came to a close when he was hit by a stray arrow shot from a rebel castle in France on 26 March 1199, Steven Runciman delivers his judgement on Lionheart’s life in a single sentence: “He was a bad son, a bad husband and a bad king, but a gallant and splendid soldier.” (A History of the Crusades III: The Kingdom of Acre; Chapter III, “Coeur-de-Lion”)

Lionheart was not fully committed to the war for the Holy Land since his priority was to safeguard the interests of his empire in England and France. He arrived in Acre on 8 June 1191 and departed for Europe on 9 October 1192. During his sixteen months in the Levant, Lionheart acted like a shrewd political operator and a pragmatic military commander—he carried out extensive negotiations with Emperor Saladin while fighting to defeat him in several battles. He and Saladin delighted in being respectful and generous to each other. Lionheart realized that with the kind of military commitment that Western Europe was in a position to make in the Levant, Saladin and other oriental forces could not be defeated. 

After a siege of about two years (started by King Guy in August 1189), the crusaders conquered Acre on 12 July 1191. Lionheart played a decisive role in the success at Acre. In September 1191, Lionheart defeated Saladin in a battle north of Arsuf. Towards the end of May 1192, the crusaders had taken all the coastal areas that they had lost to Saladin. In January 1192, and then for the second time in June 1192, the crusaders were just ten to twelve miles from Jerusalem, which was largely undefended since most of Saladin’s forces were committed to other parts of the battlefield. On both occasions, Lionheart refused to besiege Jerusalem. Apparently he believed that even if the crusader forces managed to conquer Jerusalem, they would not be able to hold it while Saladin continued to be the ruler of Egypt and Syria. 

Lionheart’s struggle to make it back to England proved as perilous as his struggle against Saladin. The ship in which he left Acre was wrecked by a storm near Venice, forcing him to continue his journey overland. To evade his European enemies, he was traveling in disguise, but he was captured by Duke Leopold of Austria. Leopold accused Lionheart of the murder of Conrad of Montferrat and locked him in a castle. On 28 March 1193, Lionheart was handed over to Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, who imprisoned him in a castle in Germany. After the payment of a huge ransom, Lionheart was released on 4 February 1194. On his release, King Philip of France sent a message to John, Lionheart’s brother: “Look to yourself; the devil is loose"

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